One of the First Rock Festivals Involved Dropping Pianos from the Sky

We’ve all heard about Monterey, Woodstock and Altamont. But up until I read this article from Medium.com, I’d never heard about Sky Rivers, an outdoor festival in a farmer’s field that may have been the template for Woodstock and every show that came later. And it involved dropping pianos from the sky,

Whether Woodstock would have happened without Sky River is, of course, anybody’s guess, but Sky River absolutely would not have happened without an even less-heralded event called the Piano Drop, a one-day Dadaist spectacle held on April 28, 1968, in a tiny town (its population was just 455) northeast of Seattle called Duvall. As the name of the event suggests, the Piano Drop featured a dropped piano (which organizers hoped would land on a specially prepared wood pile with a resounding crash), plus music byCountry Joe and the Fish. Depending on whom you talk to, at least 3,000 and as many as 5,000 people showed up for this experiment in sonic mayhem.

“It was, like, a happening, you know?” says Joe McDonald today. “We didn’t do a lot of artsy happening things,” he adds, “but I was personally open to all sorts of crazy kinds of ideas, so I wouldn’t have objected to that.”

The impetus for this particular crazy idea is a matter of low-key debate among Piano Drop historians and those who were there. The “official” history of the Piano Drop, as chronicled by the late writer, artist, and political activist Walt Crowley in “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle,” credits artists and musicians Gary Eagle and Larry Van Over (aka Jug, for the jug band he played in) for the idea. Everyone agrees on that, but exactly what inspired them is tougher to pin down. According to Crowley, Van Over and Eagle were listening to a radio show one night when the station aired a recording of 200 “revelers” dismantling/destroying a piano with sledge hammers. Apparently, wrote Crowley, the two friends were disappointed with the “aural experience” and thought they could do better.

And they did. Keep reading.

Sky River Piano Drop

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.